Preview: Belgian GP

By on
F1 Grand Prix, GP Belgium, Circuit De Spa-Francorchampsbe

Spa-Francorchamps will be the suitable host for the second part of the 2014 F1 season, the first of two consecutive high speed events before the teams head off to the east.

The circuit of Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most legendary on the Formula One calendar, having hosted numerous spectacular events, thanks to a combination of unpredictable weather in the Ardennes, as well as the high speed and flowing nature of the track itself. This year may end up being more of that as weather in the area has been particularly changeable the last week and is expected to continue in a similar fashion during the race weekend.

As the first race after the summer break, and also a lower downforce track, teams are set to bring a lot of updates to their cars, mostly aerodynamic, knowing that with stable rules for 2015, bodywork development will not be a waste of time and helpful for next year's cars. Teams are also expected to continue tweaking their suspensions following the ban on FRIC. Lotus, arguable hit the hardest by the ban, is known to have prepared new springs and suspension settings.

Track layout

The 7.004km circuit features every kind of challenge. From the run down through Eau Rouge and up the steep incline towards the blind Radillon corner, to the flat-out blast of the Kemmel Straight, through Les Combes and the technically difficult stretch down through Rivage, Pouhon and Fagnes and on to the fearsomely fast Blanchimont left-hander, Spa-Francorchamps is a circuit that, despite myriad alterations over the years, still pushes man and machine to the limit.

Spa is one of the season’s fastest tracks with average speeds of 230km/h and the stretch from the exit of La Source to Les Combes sees the throttle wide open for 23 seconds – the longest single period on the calendar. Indeed, in the past as much as 70 per cent of each lap has been spent at full throttle so it will be interesting to see how teams meet that demand with 2014’s hybrid power units.

There will be two DRS zones in Belgium. The detection point for the first zone will be 240m before Turn Two, with the activation point 310m after Turn Four. The second detection point will be 160m before Turn 18, with the activation point 30m after Turn 19.

For this year, also a few minor modifications have been to the track, including changed and additional drainage at Turns Two, Four, Eight, 11, 16 and 17. New debris fences were placed at Turn 1 and the wall on the driver’s left after Turn 11 has been renewed.

Car setup

Front wing Teams use comparably more front wing here compared to lower speed tracks to help diminish understeer in the high speed corners.

Rear wing In lots of ways Spa is the ultimate challenge for the aerodynamics.You need good straight-line speed, however good levels of downforce are also needed for the combination of fast and medium speed corners, particularly in sector two. Although very different in nature, teams run a similar level of rear wing to Montreal.

Suspension This is primarily a high speed circuit and there isn’t much use of the kerbs, so suspension is tailored to high speed balance rather than low speed travel.

Brakes Spa is not hugely demanding on brakes. The temperatures are rarely high and there are just three major stopping points (La Source, Les Combes and Bus Stop).

Power unit Spa is perhaps the biggest challenge of the season for the Power Unit. With long periods of flat out throttle, including the 25secs from La Source to Les Combes, the demands on the power unit are significant, as is the fuel consumption which will be perhaps the highest of the season to date. Energy recovery will be relatively routine at Spa with the abundance of fast, sweeping corners.

The circuit presents an intriguing and almost unique scenario in terms of ERS usage. The regulations state that drivers can deploy a maximum of 4MJ of energy to the MGU-K per lap. However, some circuits feature a lap distance of around 4km, others up to 7km. Clearly, between these two different lengths of circuit, there is a significant delta in the power available to the driver per kilometre. Sitting at the top end of that scale, with a lap length around 30% higher than the normalised average, restrictions on ERS deployment will have a greater impact here than at most other circuits, with the Power Unit restricted from being utilised to its ultimate efficiency level.

Tyres As has been the case at a number of circuits this season, the tyre allocation for Spa takes a step towards the softer end of the scale than that of last year, with the soft and medium compounds now nominated. In normal track temperatures these tyres should be well suited, however they may struggle if the track is cool. With the softer compounds in 2014, and the added punch of the new Power Units, we could see lap times falling nearer to the 2013 benchmark than at any other venue thus far in 2014 - perhaps even more so than in Bahrain, which has provided the closest comparison to date.

Quick facts

Number of corners: 19 (10 left, 9 right)
Distance from pole to Turn 1 apex: 265 m
Braking events: 8 (2 heavy)
Pit lane length under speed limit control: 387 m
Pit lane time at 80 km/h: 17.4 s
Tyre energy: Average
Brake energy: Low